Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zahra's Paradise

The actual Zahra's Paradise is the largest cemetery in Iran. This graphic novel portrays events following 2009's controversial presidential election in Iran. Medhi is a young protester who vanished the night following the election, when protests and violence erupted throughout Tehran. Although he is missing, his tenacious mother and brother refuse to accept the situation. His brother blogs about what has happened, and his mother pushes the local authorities to locate her son. Weaving together historical and fictional events, the authors put a very human face on a political situation too easily dismissed or ignored by many.

Zahra's Paradise was first published online serially and is still available in a number of different languages. As the creators say on their website, "the authors have chosen anonymity for obvious political reasons." What is known is that Amir is an Iranian-American journalist, activist, and film-maker whose works have been seen internationally. Khalil is a fine artist, and this graphic novel is his first. This interview with the writer and publisher sheds more light on this narrative.

This political webcomic turned graphic novel has received much positive attention. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a powerful look at a people’s struggle that goes beyond politicized tropes." The reviewer at Mechanistic Moth wrote about the book,"if you want to experience something that emotionally rips at your heart strings while allowing you to learn about other cultures and events to empathize with this story, then check it out." NPR's Glen Weldon offered this terse review, "Read about it. Then read it. It's good."

For more information, updates, and reviews, check out the book's Twitter feed.

This print edition was published by First Second, who provide a excerpt and discussion guide here.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Neal is an awkward 8th grader who loves to read. His favorite book series is The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, the Huntress Witch, a fantasy/adventure. He and his best friend Danny bond over the books, but Danny's mother complicates matters when she decides that the books are promoting the occult and negative behaviors. She heads up an effort to ban the book series from the local library in the name of protecting the children and promoting Christian virtues. She also sends Danny off to private school, so Neal must face high school and mounting social pressures on his own.

This book treads a fine line between being topical and stereotypical in portraying the debate over community standards about books. It reflects a number of contemporary events concerning the Harry Potter book series. Americus clearly has an anti-censorship bent and was originally serially published online and hard copy during Banned Books Week. Reed's ability to instill her characters with complex personalities makes this graphic novel more readable and intriguing, coloring the censorship debate. Lots more information about the book is available here at its blog, Save Apathea!

Americus is the creation of writer MK Reed and illustrator Jonathan David Hill. Reed is a NY based cartoonist who contributes to a number of magazines and has self-published the graphic novels Catfight (scroll down) and Cross Country as well as a webcomic called About a Bull. This interview at Inkstuds explores her work on this graphic novel. Americus is Hill's first graphic novel.

Reviewers have been very positive about the book. Publishers Weekly praised the story and art, calling it "a lovely valentine to readers and, especially, to librarians." Gavin Lees wrote that "not only does Reed have a knack for the teenage vernacular and an easygoing sense of humour, but more importantly, she gives an empowering message about freedom of speech." The Comics Journal's Rob Clough offered some critiques over characterization but also added that "Reed has a special talent for Young Adult fiction."

A preview is available here from publisher First Second.

Thank you to Gina for the review copy!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marineman: A Matter of Life and Depth

Steve Ocean is Marineman, one part Jacques Cousteau, one part Steve Erwin, and it turns out, two parts Aquaman. Only the world knows nothing about his unique ability to breathe underwater or that he possesses massive strength. Everyone knows him as the star of Ocean Encounters, a TV show exploring the oceans and shedding light on aquatic creatures. When one of his friends is involved in an undersea accident and he acts to save his life, Steve's secret comes out. A media frenzy ensues. Many of his close friends feel somewhat betrayed. And suddenly he learns that what he knew about his childhood may not be true because someone claiming to be his father is hunting for him.

Marineman is the creation of Ian Churchill, a graphic designer turned comic book artist. He is British, an avid diver, and is known for his work on a number of comic book series, including Cable and Hulk for Marvel Comics, and DC Comics' Supergirl. He keeps a blog about his work on the Marineman series and related projects.

Churchill's artwork in this volume is an energetic combination of Jack Kirby, Image Comics, and cartoons, and it packs a punch in terms of action and emotion. He also has a knack for capturing characters' voices. He does a great job of introducing a wide cast of characters who could easily be stereotypes and giving them unique personalities and interesting dynamics.

The back matter of this volume is cram-packed with extras, including profiles of actual marine biologists and what they do, Churchill's original childhood Marineman drawings (from 1977!), a good number of character and concept sketches, and an interview with the author. From all the craft and extras, it appears that this book is a particular labor of love for Churchill.

Nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series, Marineman has garnered much praise. Doug Zawisza called it "easily one of the best debut issues of 2010." Chris Kiser found it "refreshing to have an independent comic come along that delves into the art of superheroics without needlessly darkening them or mocking them ironically." Martin Maenza wrote that the series had plenty of action and was a "good comic book story."

Marineman was originally published as a six-issue series, collected here, by Image Comics. This interview talks about the future of the series and also contains a preview from this first volume.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Prince

The Prince (or Il Principe, if you prefer the original Italian) is a political treatise that was published in 1532 and has been creating controversy ever since. A translation of the text can be read for free online here.

Self-described as a realistic take on leadership, The Prince contains advice and suggestions for how to best govern people, acquire and maintain territory, and deal with enemies. It is known for an emphasis on guile, expediency, and deception. According to Machiavelli, the sole intent of any political action is to keep the power structure in place through any means necessary. The Prince was infamous and also well distributed, so many people have read it throughout history. It was declaimed for its godlessness, disregard for common decency, and its blind devotion to despotism. Its content and reputation lead to the author Machiavelli's name becoming an adjective meaning deceptive and dishonest.

More recently, some have posited that Machiavelli's treatise is so over-the-top that it was actually meant as a satire, but this is a minority opinion. A number of scholars, including Don MacDonald, have spoken out to debunk such modern revisionism.

This adaptation of the book was created by Shane Clester who is also Art Director for Round Table Comics. He captures the aphoristic tone of the book in his illustrations, providing some dark humor and levity to the political situations depicted. His love of drawing pantaloons and a wily little tow-headed prince also shine through.

Certainly the political situations contained within would be worthwhile points to bring up regarding politics and government in any era. Clester highlights areas that could generate good discussion within the text, and it would be interesting to compare his interpretations with those in the original. Going beyond uses in social studies, educator Katie Monnin gave the book an A+ and also provided some teaching tips for using it in ELA classes.

The Prince was published by Round Table Comics. A preview and a number of reviews are available here at

Thank you, Kristin, for the review copy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bronx Kill

Despite its gruesome name, the Bronx Kill is actually a narrow strait that separates the Bronx from Randall's Island in New York City. This locale figures largely in the story, being the place where Martin Keane's grandfather was murdered. Martin comes from a long line of police officers, and he bucks his father's wishes when he becomes a writer instead. While he is writing his second novel, his relationship with his wife gets strained and events from his family's past begin to affect his life. When his wife disappears, the many mysteries deepen and the Keane family history is laid bare.

This noir thriller was created by Peter Milligan and James Romberger. Milligan is a prolific comics writer who has worked on many titles from DC Comics' Vertigo imprint, including Shade the Changing Man, Hellblazer, and Greek Street and also Marvel Comics' X-Statix. Along with the sequential art narrative in the book, he also provides us working excerpts from Martin's manuscript. Romberger is a fine artist and cartoonist known for his depictions of life on NYC's Lower East Side. Among his comics work are entries in Papercutz's new horror series Tales from the Crypt.

This family-centered crime drama has been well reviewed. The Graphic Novel Reporter John Hogan wrote that this book is "another fine example of how well Vertigo’s new noir initiative is working." Newsarama's Michael Lorah gushed that "readers looking for a thrilling mystery, supported by strong characters, that builds to a roiling boil would do well to check it out." A.J. Kirby echoed that sentiment, adding that "this historical nightmare has epic proportions." Brian Pruitt and Joey Esposito also heap more praise on the book.

The Bronx Kill was published by Vertigo. A brief preview is available here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Dare Detectives!

The Dare Detectives are an unlikely trio. Maria Dare is a wily, tough ex-con who has gathered together a team of (unlicensed) private investigators. She is joined by Toby, who is big, strong, and not too bright, and Jojo, a bunny with an attitude. Together they solve cases no one else can. In these volumes, they have to deal with the schemes of Madame Bleu, whose band of panda henchmen has kidnapped local restaurateur Uncle Chan. Also, they have stolen all the snow peas in town. There are other crazy characters along the way, including the flaming monkey villain Furious George and some brutish Abominable Snowmen.

Writer/artist Ben Caldwell is best known for his work in toy and animation development, but he also has drawn a number of prominent comic book tie-ins, including Justice League Unlimited and Star Wars: Clone Wars. His animation roots show through in this book, with its vibrant colors and energetic illustrations. His work has won some praise, and he was nominated for the Russ Manning Promising Newcomer Award. This interview casts light on his career and this series.

The reviewers have largely been positive particularly about the art. Martin Gray raved that this book was "a tour de force from an artist who really knows his craft." Mark Allen remarked that Caldwell's "timing, sense of drama and humor are to be admired." Parka wrote that the book was reminiscent of a TV cartoon episode.

These books were published by Dark Horse. A preview is available at Caldwell's website.

A new collected version of these two books is forthcoming from Archaia.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Harvey Kurtzman would have been 87 today

Harvey Kurtzman is one of the rare artists who not only changed his field but also the world. His work in comic books began in the early days of the medium, and he was a contributor and editor for EC Comics. One of his first innovations was doing realistic, non-sugar-coated war stories. Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales were more anti-war comics than typical jingoistic celebrations of violence and death.

When he needed more income and needed to produce more books, he turned to what he knew best, humor, and created a cultural institution. He wrote the first 23 issues of Mad the comic book and much of the material afterward when it became a magazine. His comics set the satirical, frenetic tone of the publication and influenced countless people, from future comics legends like Robert Crumb, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman, to counter-culture revolutionaries of the 1960s, many of whom grew up reading Mad. Questioning authority and the media were a large part of Kurtzman's parodies and humor. It is difficult to imagine our society or institutions like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, or The Simpsons coming to be without the path blazed by him.

After Mad, Kurtzman attempted to publish his own anthologies, such as Trump and Help! but he failed to grab the public's attention. He worked with Hugh Hefner for years, publishing his very adult, parody comic Little Annie Fanny (definitely NSFW) with art by Will Elder in the pages of Playboy magazine. He was also influential to budding artists as a longtime instructor at the School of Visual Arts.

Kurtzman's work has been praised by The Comic Journal's Gary Groth as the "the Platonic ideal of cartooning." He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1989. He is also commemorated with the annual Harvey Awards given for achievements in comics.